Saturday, 22 October 2011

Cotton Wool Head

Tough one.  Haven’t written for a little while, so don’t know how this is going to turn out.  Plus, I’m feeling as if I’m permanently fighting off a cold, so here goes – more whingeing.

As some of you may know I was meeting with a psychologist a little while back.  It was supposed to be a weekly thing, but it was very seldom that I could bring myself to make two weeks in a row.  I’m not sure why, although this crushing sense of inaction and ennui could have something to do with it.  He was a very nice man (shades of Harry Enfield’s two old ladies there) who proceeded to put me in touch with various agencies to help me get better, which I thought was great.  As much as anything, in these times where anyone daring to be ill and claim off the state is vilified by the big business-owned tabloids, and whose words are echoed by the general public (or at least, those with rocks in their heads), it was wonderfully uplifting to hear words of encouragement.  It helped lots, too, that I felt that I was being taken seriously for a change.  Depression is not like a broken arm; when your arm is in a sling everyone can see that something is up.  They can also work out what it is.  When your happiness and well-being is broken then there is a general feeling among – well… pretty much everyone outside of a surgery, as far as I can work out – that, as they cannot see what is wrong then nothing is wrong.  Want to see a magic trick?  Tell most people that the reason you’re not working is due to depression and watch their compassion vanish on the spot.  Sooner or later – and, believe you me, this hurts much harder when they call themselves your friends – they will judge/bully you about it.  It’s as if Sigmund Freud had never been born.  Anyway, to get back to the point, I was referred to two agencies by him; one was a fitness, gym-based thing and the other was a CBT course.  For those of you who don’t know (and indeed, why should you?) CBT is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  From what I can gather, the idea is not to hit the depression head-on, but to treat the “symptoms”, as it were.  For instance, if I were to sit indoors in the dark watching Jeremy Kyle’s chav-baiting for hours on end whilst eating an industrial-size bag of Wotsits, the CBT team would look at this then ask me if I feel it’s bringing me down.  The thinking behind it is that I will look at my behaviour, say “Gosh, yes, it’s dragging me down very quickly indeed” and open the curtains, turn off the telly and go for a brisk walk around the park, stopping at the organic health food boutique on the way.  Repeat this often enough and the activity, the generation of endorphins and (presumably) some loss of weight from all that veg will make one feel marvellous enough to cease claiming Incapacity Benefit and jog to the Job Centre Plus and sign on to enthusiastically look for jobs that aren’t there.  I digress, and I’m being too cruel.  The staff themselves are caring individuals who are doing their best to help to cure, or at least alleviate, a crippling, debilitating condition that can reach into your life and twist it inside-out.  It would just make me feel more cheerful if there were a buoyant labour market in this country instead of the ‘let’s make stuff in China’ syndrome that our ‘business’ men and women currently have, leaving a small trail of Mcjobs in their trail, like the crumbs that they are.

The other key to wellness and freedom is the gym.  Guess what?  I haven’t been!  There’s a surprise.  Strangely enough, I was looking forward to it, but there was a bit of a snag; the first one coincided with my lovely fiancée having a hospital appointment.  She’s had some incredibly unfortunate incidents with hospitals before, so she likes me to come along for moral support.  The first gym appointment was on this day, along with my first CBT that evening.  There was also the fact that the gym cost £3.40 to attend (not a princely sum, I grant you, but I didn’t have it at the time) and I had to pay fares to get from one end of Wandsworth borough to the other, as the other rendezvous(es?) were in very different directions.  There was also the water on my feet issue.  This can be indicative of many things.  It is linked to being overweight, inactivity, too much salt in the diet, anti-depressant and blood-pressure medication.  Guess which box I tick?  Full marks to you if you said ‘all of them’.  My feet swell up, my boots don’t fit properly and walking anywhere – even to the local shop, normally four minutes’ stroll away – becomes agony as my feet, my hips and my back all join in the complaining.  Still, having said that, I’ve realised that if I start a journey by walking very, very slowly then I can normally get from A to B on foot – or as far as the bus stop, at least.  I actually managed two miles in one go on Wednesday, which I didn’t think was too shabby.

Ah, well.  All good things must come to an end – and so must this blog.  It’s all a work in progress, as you can see – my condition as well as the writing.  I want at least some of this to work, as I’m going through what is quite a low patch even for me.  What did Douglas Adams call it – “the long dark teatime of the soul”?  Well, teatime’s gone on for over a fortnight here.  Still, the very fact that I haven’t got my ‘cotton wool head’ today is something.  For those who don’t understand ‘cotton wool head’ is when my head feels as if it is full up with the aforementioned substance, and not a bizarre sexual practice.

I leave you all feeling a little more alert than I have been for a while.  Thank you for putting aside your precious time to read this, and I hope that you feel the need to pop out and enjoy the sunshine that is currently beaming down over the UK.  Blessed be.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Warning - May Contain some Billy Bragg

“In perpetrating a revolution, there are two requirements: someone or something to revolt against and someone to actually show up and do the revolting. Dress is usually casual and both parties may be flexible about time and place, but if either faction fails to attend, the whole enterprise is likely to come off badly”
-Woody Allen, A Brief Yet Helpful Guide To Civil Disobedience (Without Feathers), 1972

Bow down, scum. © Trevor R Pyne 2011

As I perform my tea and toast ceremony (very zen) my mind is drawn to the state of the world today.  I can hear the groans already – “oh no, Trev, not more stuff complaining about things”.  To which I reply: tough.  If you don’t like it then go and write your own blog.  This is for me to vent my spleen, and I like my spleen well vented, I can tell you.  To keep things brief: the world today has far too many people in abject poverty and squalor, not to miss out the victims of war and modern slavery.  To make an emphatic point here, I am not talking about wage slavery, although that’s pernicious and life-draining enough, I’m talking about conning workers from poor countries into a rich one , then stealing their passport (I was going to say confiscating, but that dignifies it far too much), paying them barely or not at all so that they cannot get back to their homes and (unfortunately, with a huge ‘of course’ here) threatening them, and subjecting them to, violence.  It goes on in the UK, probably in other parts of Europe, too, and on a huge scale in the Middle East.

We also have a world of so much stuff and money, too.  I was partaking in a modest pub crawl with my fiancée and one of my many cousins the other day (I have a huge family).  Being both very lucky, and yet, not as lucky as some, it was but the work of half an hour or so to get to the City of London, that well-known financial district and home of pubs that shut at the weekend.  We started near LiverpoolStreet, moved to near the Tower of London and wound up in the relatively-new Saint Katherine Docks.  I was both delighted and appalled.  Delighted, because a former grimy, industrial district was now scrubbed clean and had become, with its marina and twee chandlers, restaurants and glossy pubs, a rich person’s playground.  Appalled, because a former grim – I’m sure you can join up the dots.  What would I have replaced it with?  A shudderingly bleak, thrice-grey estate of tower blocks, whose blueprints I would actually have purchased from the former Soviet Union to make sure that they were really, truly from the time of Josef Stalin.  Ha!  Or possibly (hold onto your hats here) something not totally dissimilar to the, admittedly, pleasing low-rise flats already here, but built by… (lowers voice so as not to shock) The Council!  I am fully aware that it is not de rigeur to expect one’s local municipal authority to be responsible for the crafting of one’s dwellings, but that’s how old-fashioned and out of touch I am.  Basildon, in Essex, might not strike most folk as an example of architecture in harmony with its surroundings, but, from 1979 onwards the estate at Noak Bridge, to the north-west of Basildon propre was built.  The houses were designed in a post-modern vernacular; not only styled after older houses without slavishly imitating them but also creating meandering roads and cul-de-sacs that positively encourage a sense of community and belonging.  In effect, the best of both worlds and, for reasons to this day that I cannot fathom, almost completely unknown and untrumpeted.  I would bring in architects whose work is similar to Maurice Naunton and George Garrard, the enlightened men whose work Noak Bridge is, to create my socialist Utopia on the banks of the Thames.

However (as I am wont to say), this is right off course and no mistake.  Revolution.  Yes.  Well, a short time ago, perhaps even last year, I would have pooh-poohed such a thought.  An uprising, in this day and age?  What with state-of-the-art government surveillance and computerised everything?  You can even be tracked by your mobile phone, so any ringleaders can be found post-haste, rounded up and thrown in the clink, thus leaving the revolutionary vanguard without a guard for its van, so to speak.  Plus the fact that the rabble cannot be roused, as its constituent members far prefer X-Factor or football to the real world – and, in some ways, who can blame them?  Government, for virtually all of its inception in any country, has been about serving the interests of a self-appointed élite and (big surprise, this) not about serving the needs of the majority of the hapless citizens trapped within its boundaries.  Stuff like “The Pharaoh wants to be buried in a whatHow big?  Right, boys, get the whips”.  Even when the revolutions have started out socialist, some rotter comes along and creates a gigantic dictatorship.  And, unfortunately, not a dictatorship of the people (do you see a pattern here?) but of himself (for the life of me I cannot think of a female tyrant that usurped the uprising of a nation)?  These are just some of the reasons that I felt that a revolution would never come about.

The Internationale, sung and interpreted by Billy Bragg

But hark – what’s this on the horizon?  Crikey, if I didn’t know any better, it appears to be the sound of some grass roots – and they seem to be organising!  What’s more, they’ve knocked this pesky “thanks for the revolt, people, you can go back home – I’m in charge now” issue on the head by having minimal organising and no leaders!  Step forward the “We Are The 99%” movement, previously known as the Arab Spring, the British Summer (always stormy, that one) and demonstrations in Greece, Italy, Spain and so on.  In one sense, the powers-that-be (but, very, very hopefully that-won’t-be-much-longer) were right.  Educating the masses and then letting them communicate with each other is a no-no if you want to stay holding onto your cash cow.  Especially when those who have just been educated realise that they have no shiny pot of gold and a company BMW at the end of their hard work and ridiculously huge student debt.

Obviously, it’s early days.  I hope fervently, however, that the seeds have been sown.  It’s one thing to have some bunch of robber barons at the top of a pile that, at least, has a reasonable amount of affluence.  One can overlook the fact that some have a huge portion of the pie if the sliver you have still represents some comfort and an acceptable standard of living.  It’s quite another for the political wing ofthe City to pass around more champagne and roast cherub to their mates, then tells the rest of us that there will be a mouldy crust for the rest of us to share (all of these food references – I’m getting hungry, now) because times are hard but hey “we’re all in this together”.

So I raise a glass to the future, whilst hoping and praying that, this time, we get it right.  Does clenched-fist salute and exits to the strains of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.